Insomnia and possible ways to sleep

I know two people who have challenges with sleep. My son aged 10 and my wife CW. I have over the past few years investigated and interrogated both to get an understanding of what happens for them when they try to go to sleep. Below are my findings and possible solutions.

Both my son P, and my wife CW, have active working memories that retain events of their days.

For my son; the entertainment he has thinking about school, his friends and activities he was involved in the day, alongside whatever technological gadgets that have captured his imagination seem to keep him awake. He tires at about 10:00pm.

My wife is usually engaged in numerous nocturnal intellectual pursuits that seem to be a holdover from studying at an intense level for 5+ years.

Some of her intellectual meanderings involve worrying about our eldest son, worrying about me, worrying about if the backdoor is locked, worrying about work and worrying about future events, that may never happen, or never happen.

Then there are the many frustrations of being a PhD survivor. Being married to a man who does not want to admit his failing health and doing the laundry are high on the agenda as is a family relocation.

To Canada to be clear.

A future Blog is in development currently that speaks to this huge change!

A few years ago I once offered the unwise task of counting backwards from 100 in 7s to CW. Not only was she able to do it (patterns) 93, 86, 79, 72… but became more enraged and upset that she had completed the task of 7 counting and not fallen asleep. I am often still reminded.

I have offered to CW Tom Bilyeu’s how to get a decent rest (see below) on his podcast Impact Theory to support her sleep improvement. She has not listened to it yet, stating that podcasts are not her thing. (SMH)

The wise Eric Berne’s ‘Yes But’ approach from Games People Play I have just started to remember because, as the book suggests, it doesn’t really matter what method, I or anyone else offers/presents as the golden bullet to get to sleep, it will be refuted, denied and ridiculed by stubborn sleep refusers and CW.

The reason, I think, some people (my wife may be one of those people too) who “enjoy” being able to survive on 2-4 hours worth of sleep and apply extra cranky crunch to all who experience them.

It’s the get out of all get outs! Excuses of all excuses. They, Insomniacs, can never be challenged or provoked to look at the intensity of what their brain’s deprived of rest has wrought. Perhaps genius springs forth from fatigue?

The Boardroom
Listening to the Tim Ferris Podcast (see below) I heard of a technique that I thought was worth mentioning to those who have trouble sleeping.

Imagine that you are in a boardroom and have the director’s seat. You call the meeting to order as the director of this sleep meeting you are about to conduct.

Now imagine the other seats filled with all those annoying voices that plague you at night.

Imagination Riot
Personify them exquisitely. Dress them. Give them personalities and a place to sit at the table. You may want to depending on importance and urgency, rank these voices and place less important ones further away.

Dreamy waves depicting a sweet sunrise or sublime sunset. Perhaps sleep too are formed like waves...
Dream Like Waves

Name and Listen
Each voice has something to say to you about something specific.

There’s the voice that represents Fear, Anger, Love, Money, Work Mistakes, Regret, Family, Denial, Debt and financial concerns, Politics, Worry, Inner Child woes, Death, Car, Transport and Travel and a mariad more.

Roll up Sleeves
Now for the hard part. Imagine one of your principle concerns sitting next to the directors chair. They are speaking about what they have found, seen and have predicted to happen next in your life.

Usually in the day, you engage and take on with energy all that they are saying. Getting prepared to wage war on all that they brought to your attention.

The difference now, laying prone you are only going to listen and thank them for bringing all that they have to your attention, and importantly NOTHING more!

Loosening Grip
The ‘concern’ once being heard will dissipate and choose to leave the boardroom. In the least it will be satiated and choose to quieten from bothering your attempts to sleep. I invite you to do this for all the voices clamouring to speak to you.

Patient Practice
The technique takes practice. In time you won’t be able to stay awake long enough to listen to all of their complaints and worries, you will be too tired relaxed and calm to stay awake. Wouldn’t this be a better way to bring the day to an end?

Sleep Oddity
I know this sounds like an odd task to complete at the end of an already busy and tiring day. But would offer, does another night of twisting, turning and concerning oneself with thoughts that keep you awake for hours longer, seem like a good use of precious restoration time to you?

The understanding I am left with is one of tactical empathy. Be prepared to be triggered and then not to act when applying the boardroom techno. But by listening you have given the ‘voice’ all that it was after – an audience. Once they have shared all there is to be shared, there is not much more for the ‘concern’ to do so they quieten.

Ignore Marry Avoid
Choose not to engage with the content. An outcome from from having a daily meditative practice is to allow thoughts to pass and not follow them, as the mischief makers want to entice! Listen with care and thank them for all that they brought to your attention. With an empty head and all ‘voices’ now abated sleep should happen.

This may feel strange. But it is what the insomniac has said that they needed. I know, they have woken me up to tell me! “Quiet in the mind to be able to go to sleep.”

Often we want change, and fear change at the same time. Some people believe that we should suffer on some level for past wrongdoings. I strongly refute this idea as a truism. Insomnia is a learnt experience and so can be unlearned or another tactic applied to get to go to sleep. The dread of staying awake again could be the motivator that ushers in change for insomniacs leading to a global phenomenon.

For the insomniac procrastinator, maybe there is the want to figure out what it all means and stay awake doing so.
It is a choice to be made between sleeping or not to sleep.

One – leads to an increase in mental ability and does increase resilience affability, mental acuity and alertness, and overall health exponentially.

The other – a slow death.

The choice is yours.

Impact Theory – Get the Best Rest
Science of Success – Reluctant Meditator
Tim Ferris – Safi Bahcall
Two Guys on Your Head – Sleep
Late Night Tales: Another Late Night -Zero 7

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash
Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Insomnia and possible ways to sleep

  1. If Shakespeare is right, and it is sleep that “knits the raveled sleeve of care”, then not only have my particular ‘sleaves’ been frayed, but I have been dropping stitches for a long time.

    After being challenged with insomnia on and off for the past 2-3 years, I discovered, like many people who have experienced some form of sleep deprivation, that the more I thought about it, worried at it, feared it, the worse it could get. My sleeping pattern didn’t have a pattern. It sputtered and stalled, was staccato in its extremes. I would and could go 72 hours without sleeping, too overtired to think coherently. I could and would sleep all day long, waking sleep drunk and out of sorts all night.
    Over the past year, my sleeplessness had presented frequently as sleeping no more than 3/4 hours a night, regardless of the time I went to bed. I am not Margaret Thatcher and so I did not appreciate this intrusion of the waking world, especially because I was trying so hard to avoid it.

    Discussing insomnia, or sleeplessness, is like presenting infant colic; everyone has an opinion about how to resolve it. Warm baths and milky drinks, warm drinks and milky baths. A shot of spirits, no alcohol. Exercise to tire. No exercise because it is too stimulating. Background noise, complete silence. Soft blue lighting, total darkness. Sleeping on your back, sleeping on your stomach, sleeping on hard floorboards, sleeping under a full moon. In addition to the (well meaning) advice also comes the (misplaced) assumption that the person who is dealing with insomnia hasn’t already tried all these things. Twice.

    I found the vicious cycle of sleep lacking to be the most insidious. Not just lacking the presence of sleep, but its benefits. To health, to function, to quality rest. I was all too acutely aware of the impact it had on all aspects of my life. I was unmotivated to participate in normal daily life. I was dialling in my employment, I couldn’t concentrate in conversations with my children. I had no energy to do simple things like cook. So I ate rubbish, felt lethargic, disrupted my digestion and couldn’t sleep. Or slept for 16 hours STRAIGHT and woke, having had no rest. Feeling more tired,lethargic, listless. Everything was an uphill battle, even just getting up to do chores. I consumed You Tube by the tonne and my bed became my dinner table, my meeting place, where I answered my phone and where I was entertained. Everything made my limbs heavy and took on a greyish hue, as though a shroud had been thrown over my wakefullness. The scariest part? I started to skip. The breaks in my conscious meant that one minute I would be contemplating brown or white rice for dinner. The next I would be on the bus with little recollection of the moments in between.

    I should probably insert a disclaimer here. I have had depression for all of my adult life and my experiences of trauma – including the recent death of my mother, past homelessness and physical injury – had resulted in extreme disrupted sleep. I could plot how my response to perceived lack of control in my life was to curl up, embyonic- like and just disengage. I understood how off axis everything was, but did not know how I could re-balance. In turn, this also impacted both my physical and my mental health. Insomnia was often a focal point of my sessions with M, partly because it dominated whether I was able to attend my Walk and Talk sometimes, but also because I hated not always being present.

    We discussed my sleeplessness at length during my counselling sessions, mostly how I related to it but also how it affected me day to day. M was the first person I heard use the term ‘sleep hygiene’. And I have to admit, it sounded like BS. I had bigger issues to contend with then whether my hall light was too bright a wattage.

    So to the challenge. I read ‘Insomnia and possible ways to sleep’, and decided I would try this activity for a week and report back findings. I was open to it because I had nothing to lose, I was bloody exhausted and was just trying to get good sleep. I can be a cynic, a card carrying member of the “Yeah, But” brigade. What was the difference between the Boardroom and all the other suggested ideas I had come across? Well, the difference here is context. Of M’s invitation to set my own scene. The jungles and countryside of most guided meditations are all well and good, but if you have never experienced a beach how can you re-create the feeling of the sand between your toes? How can you explore what you cannot relate to? And what happens when you have to leave the forest and still deal with real life? With the people who make up that life and the challenges keeping you awake?

    I think this is why I had personally struggled with this way of relaxing into sleep in the past. I was taking myself far away from the issues that ailed my mind, with the nagging voice in the back reminding me that I would have to deal with it on waking. This activity was the gentle suggestion that I could invite these situations into my mindful thinking and do nothing about them, except acknowledge them. Simple. Powerful.

    A creative mind is nearly always a busy, chaotic one. For this reason, many creatives I know, including myself find free meditation so difficult. I always remember a friend of mine trying to teach me to meditate. He told me to hold a box in my head and focus on that, clearing my thoughts of everything else. Instead, the creative in me began to decorate the box, play with material (metal, plastic, cardboard?), size, contents, dimensions etc. By the end of the session I was more mentally fatigued than before because I couldn’t decide on purple or red. But my box was beautiful, so there was that.

    Therefore, I did not think that this specific activity would work for me. Mostly because I knew I would be actively distracted. And unsurprisingly I was. But, for once when it came to sleep, my imagination was the positive element because I could allow myself to focus on the minutiae of detail,which actually helped me relax more.

    The first night I was asleep before I had the chance to hear my former boss speak (such a shame). All I remember was thinking “this will never wo…” and woke up 8 hours later. Still slightly skeptical, after all, one nights rest does not an empirical breakthrough make. But change continued through the course of the week; sometimes I woke up in the night, but I have actually found it easier to go back to sleep quicker. And wake up not brain fogged or exhausted.

    I am not saying that this is a magic bullet. I have, in the past few weeks began to exercise, to overhaul my diet, to consider mindfullness, mindfully. But I would say that these things are successful as I get more rest. There is better clarity with better quality sleep. And more than anything it is not a quick fix. I will have to work at it, I will have to commit each night and not be disheartened on the nights where it will not work. And if it does stop working? Then I suppose I will change the context, and I am OK with that.

    The potential power of confronting a scenario we all often fear, even though its completely imaginary. Confronting it whilst fully in control and therefore being able to adjust for impact. I actually discovered that I had stopped caring about the opinions of some ’employees’, and they were dismissed from my Boardroom (which I had decorated of course. Long oak table, deep green jaquard wallpaper and rubber plants tastefully placed. Most importantly, my initials embossed in gold and writ large).

    Ultimately, I have to hand this one to M and thank him for the gift of this resource. Rather than toss and turn or stare at the computer blue screen, I would recommend at least trying it for 7 days and keeping a sleep journal. And if it doesn’t work, know that you will find something that will. It isn’t the whole sleep picture for me, but in tandem to focusing on a healthy body and mind means it is a part of the wider jigsaw of me.

    In conclusion, I will continue to use this exercise (though I may change the Boardroom table to a glass finish).

    For CW and all my fellow sleepless brothers and sisters.


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